When you first launch your business and establish your role within its structure, you have a lot of options. In fact, for new entrepreneurs, it can feel overwhelming. How do you decide how to structure your business when you could take it in so many directions? How do you determine what type of business model is going to be compatible with you and your work style? If you have never thought about it, you might not even know what your work style is. This is where your experience at your previous jobs comes in. Even though you’ve moved away from more traditional roles, you can use the experiences you gained as intelligence for developing your personal work style and building a compatible business structure. Whether you loved your previous jobs or couldn’t leave them fast enough, digging into what aspects you liked and didn’t like can bring valuable insight to your new entrepreneurial role and help you shape it.
I had eight jobs in the first ten years of my career. For the majority of them, I actually pitched my own position. A typical scenario went like this: I was determined to land a job at a company, but there were no openings that fit my skills and experience. So instead, I would make up my own job description and see whether it flew. Amazingly, it usually did! People saw that I was able to leverage my strengths based on my professional experience and personal work style, and as a result, my positions were often tailor made. Of course, I did have to take on additional responsibilities within each position, and often I didn’t love every aspect of the job. But overall, I had a large degree of initial control in shaping my roles. I know that’s far from the the norm in typical workplace settings, and I’ve been told by many people that my experience is so outside the realm of what they could imagine doing in their own roles. But in entrepreneurship, it’s all about that. You can create a highly customized job description that capitalizes on your strengths, while eliminating factors you’d like to do without.
How do you assess and utilize all your previous experiences to create the environment that works best for you? If you don’t know where to begin, here are my tips to get you started.
1. Think about the one thing you couldn’t stand at your previous job or jobs. You don’t have to share this with anyone else, so don’t worry about being diplomatic. What’s the one thing you truly couldn’t stand about your previous work experience? It could be that you hated sitting in front of a computer from 9 to 5 (or longer), or that you really disliked the gossip at the office, or that you felt frustrated by attending meeting after meeting but never making forward progress on all the projects you talked about. It could be something smaller, like having to eat lunch at your desk when you would have preferred to head home for lunch, or even having to wear business attire when you work just as efficiently in your casual clothes. Evaluate your thoughts without trying to filter them; your preferences are your own, and there’s nothing wrong with any of them. In fact, once you’re honest about the things that you disliked—both big and small, you can set to work designing a business model that completely removes those factors from the picture. You set the terms, and since it’s your business, you don’t have to sacrifice or minimize what you want.
For example, when I was building my own business, I was really excited about the prospect of doing things creatively, something that was completely impossible in my corporate jobs where I had to fit inside the box. In one case, I was handling social media for a major brand, but I spent more time with the legal team getting everything approved than I did on building out strategy or implementing new initiatives that I was excited about. It was discouraging, but I knew that it was what the job required. But in my own business, I do just the opposite. I seek out opportunities that allow me to work creatively, knowing that it’s a driving and motivating force for me and my work.
2. Evaluate your personal work style. Personal work style is something that often gets figuratively trampled on when you work in a traditional office setting. Get distracted by noise and need uninterrupted stretches of time so you can focus? You’re out of luck if you work somewhere with an open floor plan that’s heavy on the meetings. While most workplaces can’t accommodate everyone’s work style and try to strike some kind of balance, that’s no longer true when you work for yourself. You can curate your workspace and schedule any way you want based on your preferences and personality. You aren’t at the mercy of inconsistent or maddening company policies—like my client who works for a company that helps individuals find freelance work so they can live and work remotely, yet doesn’t approve time off for full-time employees of their own company, despite an unlimited paid time off policy. Could there be anything more frustrating or detrimental to morale?
If you’ve never really thought about your work style, it’s worth sitting down and evaluating it. Make a list of factors that make you feel energized when working and factors that make you feel drained. Again, everyone is different, and there is such huge variety in personality types and work styles. Some people love working solo while others need collaboration. Some may prefer to keep traditional working hours in an office, while others want to work early and late, using the middle of the day to recharge. Some people like to be active while they work, and use a standing desk or take calls on walks, and others need to hunker down and sit quietly. It can be really fascinating to start to analyze what makes your work style unique, and if it’s something that interests you, you can even complete a personality assessment like the Myers-Briggs. While you might think that you already know everything about yourself that there is to know, you can always be surprised.
3. Bring your strengths to the forefront. Your personal and professional strengths are your business’s biggest asset. When you’re gearing up to launch your business, remember to take stock of how your previous work experiences make you unique and how your cumulative professional experience lends itself to your portfolio of skills and abilities. What skills have you developed over time through your various positions? You might have gained proficiency in areas that you don’t even realize. These skills, coupled with your core strengths, are the engine for your success, and you want to develop a business model that takes full advantage of them.
In my case, my desire to do things my way, rather than how someone else things they should be done, is central to the way my business functions, even though it was something that was often frustrating to me when I worked in corporate settings. While this trait was still an asset to me back then (helping me get my foot in the door even if there wasn’t a position open, helping me to develop innovative ways to solve problems and develop processes), it’s a core facet of my business now. My ability and determination to think creatively makes me a better coach and entrepreneur. And now that I’ve built a business my way, it’s a feature, not a bug.